A Common Reformed Sin: Intellectual Pride

 Reformed theology is robustly biblical and it echoes the truths of Scripture so very well and clearly.  I’m not Reformed because it’s cool or because I grew up that way.  I believe Reformed truths like God’s sovereignty, total depravity, definite atonement, presbyterian ecclesiology, infant baptism, and the regulative principle of worship because they’re rooted in Scripture.  I want to be part of the historic Christian church that has submitted to and followed God’s word.

Reformed and Calvinistic Christians and churches, however, are not perfect. [I’m far from perfect!]  One major blemish found in Reformed and Calvinistic circles is the sin of intellectual pride.  Or it might be called doctrinal pride.  This is when someone who is well-versed in Reformed doctrine lets it go to his or her head.  This person becomes a self-proclaimed expert theologian who begins to look down on others who do not know as much doctrine or who have “inferior” doctrine. Sometimes this kind of person can even become unteachable and very critical of and impatient with other Christians and their views.  It’s even worse when someone who is self-taught gives himself an honorary doctorate in theology!

By contrast, the person who lives a truly Reformed life with a Reformed heart and mind will not be arrogant, but extremely humble and patient.  One essential aspect of Reformed theology is that our sovereign God alone deserves all the glory, honor, and praise and that people are finite, sinful, and completely dependent upon him in every way.  No one who is Reformed or Calvinistic should be doctrinally arrogant at all!

Petrus Van Mastricht (d. 1706) made an excellent point on intellectual humility when he applied the doctrine of God’s omniscience (omniscience is the fact that God knows all things in a divine way that is far, far beyond our understanding).  Here’s a slightly edited excerpt:

[The doctrine of divine omniscience] offers us an argument for being humbled by a comparison of our ignorance and folly with the infinite knowledge and wisdom of God, after the example of Asaph (Ps. 73:22) and Agur (Prov. 30:2-4).

…Here, therefore, what will more effectively batter down our arrogance than to think how much there is that we do not know, especially when we compare our superficial wisdom with the abyss of God’s knowledge and wisdom? What will more effectively invite us to humility?

God instills this humility (Jer. 9:23), teaching us

1) To think that God is most wise since he is the one who made us wiser than brute beasts (Job 35:11).
2) To exclaim to ourselves, ‘What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, why do you brag as if you did not receive it?’ (1 Cor. 4:7).
3) To take what you have freely received above others and to render it to God with submissive gratitude, and in that way ‘to cast down thoughts and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God.’ (2 Cor. 10:5).
4) To think about God’s dreadful judgment upon the arrogance of worldly wisdom (1 Cor. 1:19-20).

Again, it’s worth noting that Reformed and Calvinistic Christians are sinful like other Christians. And sometimes we Reformed Christians don’t live out the theology we believe and confess. Sometimes we believe a doctrine but do not apply it to ourselves and live accordingly.  May God help us live out the theology we believe and confess with humility, patience, and a strong desire to see his name be glorified – not ours!

The above quote is found in Petrus Van Mastricht, Theoretical-Practical Theology, vol. 2, p. 272-3.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015


The “Beneficent Propensity” of God (Van Mastricht)

Theoretical-Practical Theology Volume 2: Faith in the Triune God The goodness, kindness, mercy, and love of God are major themes in all parts of Holy Scripture.  It’s always one of my favorite parts of theological reading when I come across good explanations of God’s goodness and love that are very much based on Scripture.  In volume two of his Theoretical-Practical Theology  Petrus Van Mastricht wrote an excellent section on the love, grace, mercy, long-suffering, and clemency of God.  After doing some exegetical work on Exodus 34:6 (…The LORD is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in faithful love and truth [CSB]), Van Mastricht discussed in detail what these terms mean and how they apply to the Christian life.  Here are some quotes that I really appreciate.  I’ve edited the layout to make it easier to read:

…There is in God a certain benevolent and beneficent propensity toward his creatures….

That propensity is called benevolent when considered intrinsically and beneficent when considered extrinsically.

In itself generally considered it is love;
insofar as it is independent, free, and is not owed, it is grace;
insofar as it considers the creature as miserable, it is mercy;
insofar as it considers the offending sinner whom it endures, it is patience;
insofar as it endures him a long time, it is long-suffering;
insofar as it also does good to him, it is clemency and beneficence.

Petrus Van Mastricht, Theoretical-Practical Theology, vol 2., p 348-349.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Immutability of God: Application (Van Mastricht)

 Scripture quite clearly teaches that God is immutable.  This means he does not change, have mood swings, or go back on something he said.  God is the constant one.  James 1:17 says there is no change or shadow of turning with God.  Malachi 3:6 says, “I am the LORD, and I do not change” (NLT).  The Psalmist puts it this way in a prayer to the Lord: “You are always the same” (Ps. 102:25 NLT).  The doctrine of God’s immutability is a truth that brings much comfort to the Christian’s heart, mind, and soul.  Here’s how Petrus Van Mastricht applied the doctrine of God’s immutability:

“For this reason he is called the rock (Deut. 32:31; Ps. 73:26) upon which the church has been built (Matt. 16:18).  For if the godly are vexed, perhaps in regard to their eternal salvation, because of the inconstancy of their own heart, together with the immutable treacheries of their spiritual enemies, what will sustain them more effectively than the fact that their immutable God (Ma. 3:6) is a rock and unmoved builder, whose firm foundation stands, by which the Lord knows those who are his (2 Tim. 2:19), whose saving gifts are without repentance (Rom. 11:29)?

Or if they are vexed about the vicissitudes of temporal things, whether the stirrings of war, diseases, or whatever other calamities, what will more effectively comfort them than to consider that

1) the immutability of the one God is a law fixed in their favor, and that all other things are only immutable in their motion and flux (1 Cor. 7:29).

At the same time that 2) God, through all these motions and vicissitudes, will be present, unmoved, for the sake of his own (Ps. 46:1-7), present in his perfection and strength, that they may not be shaken (Ps. 90:1).

That 3) he is immutable in goodness, love, grace, and mercy (Is. 54:10; Ps. 117:2; 118:1, 2, 5),

and also 4) in his will and gracious decrees by which he  knows his own (2 Tim. 2:19; Heb. 6:17-18),

and in addition, 5) in his promises, so many and so great (Num. 23:19), all of which will be yes and amen in Christ (2 Cor. 1:20; Heb. 13:15), and especially in his faithfulness and covenant (Is. 53:3; 54:10; Hos. 2:19).

What could be more effective for our consolation than all these things?

Petrus Van Mastricht, Theoretical-Practical Theology, vol. 2. p. 162.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54002

The Attributes of God and Application (Van Mastricht)

 Learning about the attributes of God from Scripture is not purely an academic enterprise.  As we learn about God’s characteristics, his people are also comforted, ecouraged, and refreshed.  What Scripture teaches us about God is practical for day-to-day Christian living.  In other words, the attributes of God and application go hand in hand.  Here’s how Petrus Van Mastricht said it (I’ve edited the structure):

“…For when this God is our God, and for us (Rom. 8:31), will not all these attributes be for us, and ours?  Individually, for example,

  1. Will not his immutability render us certain that he will remain our God to all eternity (Mal. 3:6; 2 Tim. 2:19)?

  2. Will not his truthfulness make it so that we can rest unmoved upon his promises (Josh. 21:45; Is. 34:16)?

  3. Will not his goodness and love make it so that we may be secure, in adversities of whatever sort and however great, that all these things will serve to our advantage (Heb. 12:6; Rom. 8:28, 38-39)?

  4. Will not his mercy give us hope that he will graciously remit our sins (Ps. 103:8-10; Ex. 34:6)?

  5. Will not his wisdom persuade us that his governance of us will be most beneficial (2 Pet. 2:9; 2 Sam. 15:25-26)?

  6. Will not his omnipotence persuade us that he can furnish all the things that he has promised, and that will benefit us (Eph. 3:20; 2 Thes. 1:11).

    And so forth.

Petrus Van Mastricht, Theoretical-Practical Theology, Vol 2, p. 128.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Headings of Theology Should Be… (Van Mastricht)

Theoretical-Practical Theology Volume 1: Prolegomena I appreciate Petrus Van Mastricht’s emphasis that Christian theology should be practical. Here’s how he explained theology with a little more detail:

“The heads of theology should be

  1. Positively proved from the Scriptures, confirmed by reasons, and explicated (explained/developed) in all their members, which is like a solid foundation for the entire structure;

  2. Elenctically (polemically) vindicated against the artifices of all opponents, for without that vindication the constructed foundation neither stands sufficiently on its own nor becomes sufficiently rooted in the hearts of those who theologize;

  3. Practically applied, without which the prior points will be entirely and plainly useless.  For just as practice without theory is nothing, so theory without practice is empty and vain.  For that reason, in his most wise counsel, the Savior joins them together: ‘if you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them (John 13:17).”

(Petrus Van Mastrich, Theoretical-Practical Theology, volume 1, p. 69-70.)

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Ongoing Inspirations from the Holy Spirit? (Van Mastricht)

 In the years following the Protestant Reformation there were groups who believed that God was still speaking directly and immediately to them.  thought that this inner word from God was equal to or sometimes even above Scripture, so they would follow and submit to the inner word.  Luther and Calvin, along with other Reformers, were very critical of these enthusiasts.  In fact, historical Reformed theology has always been critical of such claims and movements.  One example is Petrus Van Mastricht (d. 1706) who gave a helpful summary of the enthusiast position and a biblical refutation of it:

…We [the Reformed] dispute whether believers now, after the canon has been sealed, possess enthusiasms, or inspirations, of the Holy Spirit.  These inspirations are to them [the enthusiasts] the most certain word of God, to which one must submit just as much, if not in fact more, than to the Scriptures. …Indeed, they acknowledge that Scripture is the Word of God, but it is not to be understood except according to the breathings or the inspirations of their Spirit, a certain sort of internal word, as it were.

The Reformed acknowledge that in the patriarchs, prophets, and apostles, there were true enthusiasms, and that in all ordinary believers there are indeed operations of the Holy Spirit that illuminate, convert, and sanctify, but there are no enthusiasms, no inspirations, in the sense of the infallible direction of the Holy Spirit, [infallible direction] which has now been removed from all men.  This heresy is refuted by a destruction of this twofold false hypothesis:

First, they claim that Scripture is not a complete and sufficient rule of faith and morals in itself.  For if Scripture’s sufficiency stands enthusiasm falls on its own.  Now, its sufficiency stands by those things that we have said in favor of the perfection of Scripture in section 19 above….

Second, they claim that even now enthusiasms are infallible revelations of the Spirit are given, which are different from the scriptural enthusiasms, and with the help of which the Scriptures must be interpreted. However, the sacred page does not know of such revelations; indeed, it even rejects them, since it is perfect, and sufficient of itself in every respect; and it pronounces that they are joined with the most pressing danger of seduction (2 Cor. 11:14; 2 Thes. 2:2; 1 John 4:1-2).

…[Indeed,] there are passages that speak of revelation and of the illumination of the Holy Spirit. I respond that those passages are not speaking about the kind of enthusiasms that direct [us] infallibly and that reveal other objects to us, different from those things (indeed, even contrary to those things) that Scripture holds, but rather, those that bring light to the intellect, so that we might be able to discern and distinguish the things revealed in the Scriptures (Eph. 1:17-18).

This complete section (which I’ve edited slightly) can be found on pages 153-154 of Van Mastricht’s Theoretical-Practical Theology.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015